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Sonoma council votes unanimously to join clean power authority

The Sonoma City Council overcame its previous division Monday and voted unanimously to join the Sonoma County Clean Power Authority.

The vote is the latest in a series of 11th-hour decisions by cities on whether to join the county's fledgling public power program. Sonoma became the fifth city to join.

“It gives me great pleasure to vote yes and make this a unanimous vote of the Sonoma City Council,” said Mayor Ken Brown, who had previously said he was inclined to vote no.

With Sonoma, the power authority now may serve 79 percent of the utility customers in the county, Sonoma Clean Power interim CEO Geof Syphers said after the vote.

“I think we are finally getting the right information out,” Syphers said.

Sonoma council members said the shift away from skepticism of the county program, touted as a greener alternative to PG&E, was due in large part to Santa Rosa's unanimous, yet tentative, vote last week to join the public power agency.

Power agency officials agreed to recommend to their board several conditions Santa Rosa said it needed to participate in the program, including additional ratepayer protections and a method for cities to avoid financial penalties if they later decide to withdraw from the public power agency.

Those changes bolstered the Sonoma council's decision to join the agency.

“I've been in favor of the City of Sonoma joining this for quite some time and I think changes proposed by the city of Santa Rosa should make it a stronger program and hopefully should alleviate concerns,” Councilman Stephen Barbose said.

The 4-0 vote featured Laurie Gallian abstaining because her husband works for PG&E.

The council nominated Barbose to sit on the power agency's board.

Sonoma Clean Power aims to supplant PG&E with competitive rates and a cleaner energy portfolio.

The public agency would broker an energy portfolio with greater focus on renewable sources, including solar, wind, geothermal and small hydroelectric projects. PG&E would continue handling billing, transmission, metering, customer service and repairs.

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